Late in the summer of 2014, I found myself some 1600 kilometres away from home in a service apartment in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, all pumped up and excited to start my first job. In the three months that I lived in the apartment on Sargassan Cross Road, I learnt how relentlessly Gujarat tries to make a vegetarian out of an omnivore. Let’s get this clear, I come from Bengal and fish is my staple protein and in this part of the country, even Pizza Hut strives to have a suddha-shakahari identity. We eat quite a lot of vegetables in the Bengali household and I love a good shukto and aloo posto but this was a totally a different world in which you were not expected to have a choice. Needless to say, it was a struggle. Forget meat, I was famished for the scent of garlic. Less than a fortnight into strict vegetarianism and food-depression started to get the better of me.
“Ab to zamana badal chuka hai,” says Pashang Tamang with a wry smile when over a cup of chai, I ask him if the kids these days prefer to pick their own partners. Times have changed but even in the last decade, the Lepchas were part of a close-knit community in which marriages were arranged strictly between families with the same surname i.e. within the same sub-caste. The formal consent of the families was the first impetus behind starting a conversation between a man and his wife-to-be but tourism has sunk deeper into the social fabric of the Lepchas than can be gleaned from a night at one of the numerous homestays in Lepchajagat. As the Lepcha teenagers of today text each other about their dreams and desires, Pashang still looks somewhat unsettled at the thought of a Tamang marrying a Gurung.
For nine months, all we had were Skype and WhatsApp to bridge the invincible time gap of 12.5 hrs that stood like a wall between us. In the excitement of seeing each other after so long, we hurriedly planned a short trip to Goa when I returned to India over summer. What I had failed to consider was the fact that two weeks prior to departing the US, I had taken my first shot of Depo-Provera and now my hormones were fucked up to the point that I was behaving like a raging maniac at the drop of a hat. I was oscillating between calm and angry every few hours. I felt bloated all the time. The fantasies that had kept me alive were replaced by technicolour dreams of how to plan the funeral of my libido. Add to that frustration, my digestive enzymes had declared a strike which meant I could hardly put any of the food I was craving for almost a year into my mouth without any fear of repercussions. Thus, after a romantic date at one of Goa’s best restaurants, we walked home except that our walk in the sea-tinged night air was anything but romantic; I was rambling inebriated and clutching my stomach, sweating profusely as we desperately searched for the nearest loo.